After a year of reflecting on missed chances and blown opportunities, Duke will get a chance to redeem its postseason struggles of recent years as it returns to the ACC tournament with one of its most complete squads.
The second-seeded Blue Devils will take on seventh-seeded Boston College in the first round at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Trager Stadium in Louisville, Ky., after wrapping up the regular season ranked second in the nation. Duke is riding high entering its first-ever postseason matchup with the Eagles, having won six in a row and 12 of its past 13 games. The Blue Devils have outscored their opponents 19-8 in those six games.
“It’s an absolute privilege that this team has earned. They came into this season wanting to be here,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said. “We want to be in this moment, so for now [our plan] is just enjoy the opportunity to play. [We] have this one day to play, so really embrace it.”
The Blue Devils put the finishing touches on a stellar regular season with a 4-0 shutout of Appalachian State last Saturday on Senior Day. With the win, the class of 2018 sealed their legacy of success in the regular season during their time at Duke.
Similar postseason success, however, has been elusive.
This group of seniors has not been a part of a team at Duke that advanced past the semifinals in either the ACC or NCAA tournament. Last season, early exits at the hands of North Carolina and Delaware in the conference and NCAA tournaments, respectively, brought an abrupt end to what had been one of the best seasons in program history. The Blue Devils hold just a 16-34 all-time record in the ACC tournament.
In 2017, Duke (15-2, 4-2 in the ACC) has replicated its regular-season success from a year ago, but has not yet proven itself at the time when it matters most. No group is more motivated to end this trend than the current class of seniors, who have been integral parts of the team for the entire season.
Alyssa Chillano has seen a regression in her scoring but has anchored a defense that has posted a 1.09 goals against average this season, good for fourth in the nation. And classmate Ashley Kristen has also been a critical piece for the Blue Devils, adding two goals on Senior Day to bring her point total this year to 21, good for second on the team and two shy of her career high.
“It’s really funny because [with] this senior leadership, it truly is one game at a time,” Bustin said. “[The seniors] just want to win an ACC tournament game, which is kinda funny to think that we haven’t since they’ve been here. That’s something that they’re taking a lot of pride and stock in, to make sure that happens before they leave.”
Duke and Boston College have met once already this year, a game that ended in a 3-2 shootout overtime win for the Blue Devils in Newton, Mass. Despite their close game against the Blue Devils, the Eagles (11-7, 0-6) struggled in a competitive ACC, coming close to beating North Carolina but failing to make much of a challenge in their other conference matchups. Boston College has lost two in a row, including a 3-0 loss to Wake Forest, as it heads into the postseason.
The Eagles are led by an unlikely pair of a senior and a freshman—Alesandra Miller and her younger teammate, Fusine Govaert, are tied for the team lead in points and rank first in assists and goals, respectively.
“[Boston College] is a good team, a really good team. They’re great competitors, and they’re very talented,” Bustin said. “What we take away from the last [Boston College] game is that we need to play our game for the full amount of time, and to continue to persist, and make sure we come prepared from the very first whistle.”
Duke's seniors have won 58 games during their time in Durham. Now, as they head into the postseason for the last time, they’re looking for just three more in the ACC tournament.
“You have the season that you focus on one day at a time. You continue to try to improve the things that need improving and keep the things that are going well, keeping them going well,” Bustin said. “Now that we’re at this point in the season we should have a pretty good game put together."
"We never take one win for granted, and we definitely did a lot of reflection on our two losses, so as we go to practice hopefully we’re just gaining more and more momentum, and more strength in our game.”
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